Some years after Mortimer Menpes made his first journeys to Japan and brought a Western sensibility to an Eastern country, another artist was making the same journey in reverse. Yoshio Markino (Heiji Makino as he was born, in 1869) sailed from Yokohama to San Francisco at the age of 24. In 1897 he travelled to London where he stayed for more than forty years, bringing the artistic sensibility of Japan to his new home.
Markino lived in various parts of London including Greenwich, New Cross, Kensal Rise, Norwood and Brixton. But he found his longest lasting home in Kensington and Chelsea.
He painted the city in many moods but his preference seemed to be for overcast days, for night time and above all for fog. London in mist is far above my own ideal….the colour and its effect are most wonderful. I think London without mists would be like a bride without a trousseau….The London mist attracts me so that I do not feel I could live any other place but London.
He was sometimes called the painter of fog.
Some of the figures in his pictures look lost and lonely as if he was anticipating the night time urban views of Edward Hopper. Here is a view of his lodging house in Sydney Street.
The monochrome view makes the street look grim and cold. But there were bright lights in the misty places as in this picture of Earls Court Station.
Look at the bright clothes of the two women in the foreground, travelling to or from a theatre or the nearby exhibition centre:
There is that Japanese love of water too. The wet pavement reflects everything as if the whole city was built on a lake.
“A wet day in Sloane Square”
He did venture out in daylight too but as he says December is my favourite month in London.
Cale Street, quite close to his lodging house, perhaps looking out of the window.
There were some summer and autumn days, never entirely without the hint of mist.
A woman sits reading in Kensington Gardens. A little further south there were crowds in Brompton Road outside the museums Markino admired.
But it was the gloom he loved best, the glimpses of people entering or leaving brightly lit interiors setting out on a night time journey.
Here at Brompton Oratory, or below at the Carlton Hotel.
Markino wrote several books about his life in London. He experienced hardship and illness before he could make a comfortable living as a freelance artist and writer but never lost his commitment to his adopted home. At one point he worked for a stonemason in Norwood designing angels for memorials in the nearby cemetery. The stonemason regretfully let him go because his angels were too feminine – “more like ballet girls than angels”.
Perhaps the feeling of being a stranger gives his pictures that air of lonely detachment. I was pleased to find this one in My Recollections and Reflections (1913).
Thistle Grove with its Narnian lamposts which bring back memories of William Cowen the water colour artist who painted that area nearly seventy years before. It’s difficult to be sure whether this view is looking north or south. Because of the wall I’m leaning towards the Fulham Road end. Not so far from this scene:
The tall grimy buildings, the distant tower of St Stephen’s hospital, the shadows, the damp, the mist and amid the gloom the lights of shops and the brightness of the people living in the dark city.
I had only been vaguely aware of Markino when I was looking for something to follow up last week’s post on Menpes. And this, if you don’t mind me saying, is the value of special collections in libraries, in our case of biographies and books about London. I found a great many pictures by Markino in his memoirs and his collaborations with other writers. The quotations come from the introductory essay in The Colour of London.
Like Mortimer Menpes we may come back to Yushio Markino.
A Japanese artist in London (1912)
My recollections and reflections (1913)
The colour of London (with W J Loftie) (1907)
Yoshio Markino: a Japanese artist in Edwardian London (1995). By Sammy I. Tsunematsu.